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Paris - Nice 2017: Stage 6

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Bonjour

This is how things are looking at the buses this morning. With the climbing starting from the gun, there's no time to ease your way into the stage, and pretty much every team has a bank of turbo trainers lined up for riders to get their legs warmed up. 

We're in Aubagne this morning. We've already reached the very south of France - we're almost at the coast - and now it's time to head east in the direction of Nice. Fayence, on the cusp of Alpes-Maritimes, is where this one finishes. 

And away we go. The riders begin the roll-out and are making their way through the neutralised zone. After that the flag will drop and we should be in for a flurry of action on the first climb of the day.

Here's what the opening climb looks like

Finally...

Big day for the Henao's. Sergio (left) sits fourth overall at just over a minute.

A quick reminder of the GC complexion before things kick off here

And we're off!

Ben King (Dimension Data) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) are the first two riders to attack on this opening climb. They won't be the last. 

Winner Anacona (Movistar) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko-Marseille Provence KTM) set off now and join up with King and Lemoine. 

Those four are opening up a healthy lead here. Who else will be tempted to try and make it into the break?

The Espigoulier is a picturesque climb

It seems everyone in the peloton is happy to see these four head off into the distance.

And now the pace is upped in the peloton. As a result, sprinters getting dropped left right and centre. 

Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) attacks. The Colombian, here to work for Alberto Contador, takes off from the bunch. Does Contador have something up his sleeve today?

5km to the top of the climb. Pantano is closing in, but the peloton is moving pretty swiftly, and itself is only 30 seconds behind the head of the race.

All back together

I say all back together. Lots of riders have lost contact already here. Mostly sprinters, but we're now hearing that Davide Formolo has been dropped. He represented Cannondale-Drapac's last hope, and was 16th overall at just over 2 minutes, so (if confirmed) that is not good at all. 

Cyril Gautier (AG2R La Mondiale) attacks now. 

Gautier is pegged back one kilometre shy of the summit. 

This is the first category-1 climb of this year's race, so there'll be plenty of King of the Mountains points on offer. Romain Hardy (Fortuneo Vital Concept) leads that classification at the moment.

After a fairly sedate start to the climb, things have really kicked off, and the peloton is down to around 60 riders. Many could come back, however, over the gentle kilometres that follow if/when a break goes and things settle down. 

It's all together over the top of the climb. Time now for a short descent before the road kicks up briefly again. 

More attacks as the road levels out but nothing sticking for the time being. There's an intermediate sprint coming up, but most of the sprinters are well behind. 

Apologies for the delay in updates - minor technical difficulties at CN towers. All good now. 

In the meantime, Sam Bennett, who managed to hang on on that climb, took maximum points at the intermediate sprint, and the thinned out peloton is still together - no breakaway for the time being.

We're hearing that Formolo has abandoned the race. Terrible news for Cannondale-Drapac, after Joe Dombrowski and Pierre Rolland lost nearly 40 minutes in the crosswinds across the opening two stages. To make it worse, Lawson Craddock has also climbed off. 

It's fast and furious out there, with the road heading gently downhill.

Contador is dropped on the descent, along with Adam Yates, but the pair manage to regain contact. 

Contador is dropped on the descent, along with Simon Yates, but the pair manage to regain contact. 

More attacks coming now from this lead 'peloton' of 60 or so riders. A big group containing riders dropped on the climb is trying to make its way back to the head of affairs. 

At the top of the l'Espigoulier it was Arnold Jeannesson (Fortuneo) who crested first, earning himself 10 points. However, Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) was second, landing him 8 points that put him in the provisional lead of the KOM classification.

152km remaining from 192km

Formolo's abandon is confirmed

Six riders have managed to open up a gap at the head of the race. They are:

145km remaining from 192km

One break dies, another is born. Eight riders have clipped off the front.

This looks promising. The eight riders have already prised open an advantage of over half a minute. They are:

The break is a good one, it seems, and they have well over a minute now. 

Finally, some calm. 

126km remaining from 192km

Meanwhile, the gruppetto makes it back to the primary peloton, meaning all the sprinters are safely back in there. 

So, we now have two groups on the road. The breakaway of eight, and the peloton containing the rest of the field. 

The gap continues to rise towards the three-minute mark. None of these riders are a threat to the GC contenders. Chavanel is the best placed overall, but is 17 minutes down. 

Lovely day out there - the first two stages seem a lifetime away.

115km remaining from 192km

The gap is up at 3:50 now. 

We've got some breaking news from Italy, where embattled Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford has dropped in on Tirreno-Adriatico. Our man on the ground, Stephen Farrand, was there this morning to ask Brailsford about the question marks that have arisen over his leadership. Brailsford said quitting hasn't crossed his mind. Here's the full story:

85km remaining from 192km

In this breakaway there are three riders who have points on the board in the mountains classification - De Marchi, Chavanel, and Domont all have two points apiece. There should be a fierce battle over the next climbs, then, with the polka-dot jersey within reach. 

Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson did the rounds at the team buses this morning and tells us that Ben Swift was warming up on the rollers before the stage - one of only two riders from his UAE team to do so. The British rider clearly had this stage marked out. 

86km remaining from 192km

The first two climbs will sap the legs but the real GC action should kick off on the Col de Bourigaille. It's tackled twice in full - first from the western side and then from the southern side - and features a tricky descent in between. 

A closer look at the final climb

Julian Alaphilippe has already taken this race by the scruff of the neck with an emphatic time trial victory, but this stage seems perfectly suited to our race leader. In fact, Quick-Step have options aplenty, with Philippe Gilbert and Dan Martin also in their ranks. 

The breakaway riders hit the côte des Tuilières with an advantage of 3:30 over the peloton. 

Domont is the first over the top, ahead of Sepulveda and Chavanel. 7 points for the Frenchman.

It's only a short climb but it packs a punch, and several riders - mostly sprinters - are dropped as Trek-Segafredo lead the peloton over the top. 

The break are losing ground here. The gap is down to 2:30 now. The upcoming third-cat climb won't be of much concern but the first time up the Bourigaille should see their lead tumble. There are bonus seconds on the line at the finish, so there'll be plenty of interest in the stage win among the GC contenders. 

Alberto Contador has said today's finale suits Alaphilippe better than it does himself, and he'll have vivid - if unhappy - memories of his last visit to Fayence - on the penultimate stage of the 2009 Paris-Nice. The Spaniard was in the yellow jersey but, on a chaotic and aggressive day, he cracked with 15km to go and lost three minutes - and with it the race. Here's Cyclingnews' report from the archives:

The eight breakaway riders hit the short cat-3 Côte du Mont Méaulx with a lead of 2:30.

Domont wants those polka-dots. He sprints for the KOM line to bag himself a further few points in the mountains classification. 

59km remaining from 192km

We mentioned Quick-Step's surplus of options for today's stage, one of them Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian has won just about every hilly Classic going, with Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, Fleche-Wallonne, Il Lombardia, and a World Championships tucked away in his palmares. Daniel Benson spoke to the 34-year-old about his plans to bulk out that palmares even further before he hangs up his wheels. 

Here's a shot of the breakaway heading uphill

'I don’t want to be a maillot jaune who just defends'

The breakaway's advantage is down to a minute as they hit the climb. 

Contador attacks!

The Spaniard wastes no time as the peloton hits the climb. Sprinters dropped already. 

Dan Martin and Sergio Henao respond to the Contador attack. 

Contador, Martin, and Henao open up a gap of 10 seconds but it comes to nothing. 

50km remaining from 192km

As expected, the breakaway is falling apart on this climb. Chavanel is already back in the peloton, while De Marchi has just made a big attack. 

Sepulveda tracks De Marchi, while Swift, Anacona, Herrada, Valgren and Domont lose ground. 

Steven Kruijswijk is dropped. He finds himself off the back in the company of a group of sprinters. Not good for the Dutchman, who started the day 20th at less than four minutes down. 

Philippe Gilbert is dropped now. 

Sepulveda bags 10 points as he crests the climb in pole position. De Marchi still with him. The dropped breakaway riders are 25 seconds down, while the peloton is a further 30 seconds in arrears. 

Sky lead the peloton downhill as Anacona and Herrada are absorbed back in. 

40km remaining from 192km

Swift, Herrada, and Domont are caught and passed by the bunch, still led by Sky. 

This is a fast descent. Some occasional hairpins but lots of sweeping bends and long straight sections where the riders can really pick up speed. 

The peloton very much thinned out on the first climb of the Bourigaille, but all the main GC favourites are in there. Sergio Henao is tucked in between teammates at the head of the line. 

35km remaining from 192km

The riders come into town now, and they're going to get a first taste shortly of the final climb. 

30km remaining from 192km

A reminder that we're going up the other side of the Bourigaille this time. It's longer, at 8.1km, and only has an ever so slightly less severe gradients. 

Onto the climb!

De Marchi and Sepulveda drive out of the saddle to tackle these double-digit gradients. 

The peloton hits the climb now and riders start to lose contact instantly. 

No attacks just yet as Sky tap out a steady rhythm on the front. We've seen this before. Deignan has pulled off but Henao still has two men with him. 

Our two leaders are struggling up here and they're not going to be up front for much longer. 

The final few hundred metres of this climb are so steep, and there's a small split in the bunch as the three Sky riders open up a slight gap - all of them. 

Alaphilippe tags onto the Sky men, but this group has thinned out massively. 

Contador is off the back here. 

Sergio Henao leads the bunch over the first crossing of the finish line. It's also an intermediate sprint point, and so the Colombian gains one second for the GC. 

The riders won't encounter stepper gradients before the summit, but there are still 6km remaining until they reach it. 

Contador might have been some distance back on Henao, but he was more or less in the middle of the strung-out main bunch and, according to Daniel Benson, who has set up shop at the line, he looked perfectly comfortable.

23km remaining from 192km

Sky haven't moved from the front of the bunch. Everyone else is just following at the moment (we've seen this before). Alaphilippe is locked onto Henao's wheel, with two QuickStep teammates just behind him, including Dan Martin. 

Henao's cousin, Sebastian, pulls off and sits up. His work is done. It's Mikel Nieve on the front for Sky now. 

The group of favourites closes in on the leaders. De Marchi calls it quits, while Sepulveda tries to drag it out for a bit longer. 

21km remaining from 192km

David de la Cruz is dropped, so Alaphilippe has just Dan Martin with him now. Lots of riders losing contact now as the pace ramps up. 

20km remaining from 192km

Will we see anyone attack over the top of the climb. If they could get a gap and stay away on the descent, it would just be that brutal kilometre that would separate them from victory. 

Simon Yates attacks!

The Orica-Scott man is wearing the white jersey of best young rider, on loan from Alaphilippe, and he has a few seconds over the rest as he comes over the top. 

Yates is 15th overall at 2:16.

18km remaining from 192km

Fuglsang attacks now. 

Nieve pulls off now, leaving Henao at the head of the group. Fuglsang's dig comes to nought and Dan Martin now leads the group down the hill. 

There are only 15 riders left in this group now. 

Gilbert has been dropped, we remind you. Demare and Molard are the other members of the top 10 not present in this group. 

15km remaining from 192km

Roche gets back on with Patrick Konrad on the descent. There are now 16 riders in the group. 

13km remaining from 192km

Yates' advantage creeps up to half a minute but it's back down at 25 seconds now. 

10km remaining from 192km

8km remaining from 192km

Will he pay for this effort on the final climb? Henao and co have been led downhill here by Nieve, and so might have enough in the tank to peg him back in the final couple of kilometres. 

6km remaining from 192km

You can see the full make-up of the chasing group in the 'situation' bar on the right of your screen. 

4km remaining from 192km

Roche is suffering but giving it everything. Alaphilippe looks relaxed behind Henao, as does Gallopin nearer the back of the group. 

3km remaining from 192km

2km remaining from 192km

Remember there are 10 bonus seconds on offer for the stage winner. 

Roche is still on the front, in a world of pain, but he's not going as quickly as Yates. 

Nieve realises that, and comes to the front to take it up once more. But he looks tired too. 

1km remaining from 192km

1km remaining from 192km

Nieve leads the group onto the climb. Porte attacks. 

Alaphilippe moves up to Porte's wheel. No one dropped yet but it's single file

The gradients ease up. The next attack should come when it kicks up once more. 

Porte goes again!

Alaphilippe can't respond. Gallopin gives chase.

Henao goes with them. They sense weakness in the race leader.

Yates into the final 600 metres, on those bruising gradients. 

Henao goes!

Henao has dropped Porte and Gallopin. Alaphilippe has recovered.

Can Yates hold on?

Yates rounds the bend into the final 200 metres. The gradients ease but they'll kick up again. He's going to take it.

Simon Yates wins stage 6 of Paris-Nice

Here comes Henao

Henao crosses the line 15 seconds down. 

HPorte is third a further 10 seconds down. 

And now Dan Martin leads home Alaphilippe, the race leader. 

The rest of the group members come in in dribs and drabs. No major time losses for anyone, and Alaphilippe remains the race leader. 

Hugs and smiles between Alaphilippe and Martin. The Frenchman was in a spot of bother there, but his teammate did a great job for him in the final few hundred metres. 

Alaphilippe came in 29 seconds down on Yates, with Martin. Contador, Gallopin, Izaguirre, Fuglsang three seconds down. 

Simon Yates is the big winner, with a prestigious addition to his palmares and a jump into eighth place, but Sergio Henao can be well pleased with his day's work. He's up into third and has cut the gap to Alaphilippe from 1:05 to 46 seconds. 

Top 10 on stage 6

And here's the new GC

"I had a small idea about trying something, but it all depended on how I felt and the conditions. It got to the moment and I said to myself 'why not? I haven't got anything to lose so if I get caught I get caught'. So I tried, and I'm just happy it worked," says Yates in his winner's TV interview. 

Is he now a GC contender?

Yates makes his trip to the podium

'Merci, mon ami'

Here's our stage report page, with results and photos

Over at Tirreno-Adriatico, world champion Peter Sagan has taken another victory, getting the better of Elia Viviani in what was a messy sprint. Here's our report:

Here's who'll be wearing what jerseys tomorrow.

Here's what's in store tomorrow - the highest summit finish in the history of Paris-Nice and, on paper, the most decisive GC day of this year's race. Not to be missed!

A demain

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